Sunday, June 27, 2010

Identity Politics, a Divisive Mantra

Politics itself is divisive. It does not unite, but divides. However, democratic politics is unavoidable since no better system of governance that would have the stamp of approval by the governed has yet been invented.But identity politics is pure poison.
*Linguistic Identity Politics: Linguistic states were formed in India in 1956 with the good intention of encouraging preservation of sub-cultures. Culture of a society is very strongly bound with the language spoken by the people of a region. But look at the consequences of the formation of linguistic states. Biharis are beaten up in Maharashtra. Kannadigas do not want to share Cauvery water with the Tamils. Kannadigas and Maharashtrians are quarrelling over the district of Belgaum. Assamese resent Bengali immigrants. But what was most unexpected are the fissures within a linguistic state. U.P. a Hindi speaking state could not satisfy the aspirations of its Hindi speaking hill-inhabitants and Uttarakhand had to be formed. Bihar , another Hindi-speaking state had to agree to let Jharkhand region to have its own state since the tribal there felt being exploited by the mainstream people of the rest of Bihar. Telengana people can not stomach the dominance of their Telugu-speaking brothers in Andhra and Rayalseema areas of Andhra Pradesh. The people of Chattisgarh separated from the Hindi-speaking state of Madhya Pradesh though the people of both M.P. and Chattisgarh speak Hindi. Now, the people of western Uttar Pradesh want a separate state. The Marathi-speaking people of Vidharba region want a separate state carved out of the Marathi-speaking state of Maharashtra. It is clear that concept of linguistic states has failed.Language alone can not unite.
Racial Identity Politics of Dravidian parties: This is much worse than linguistic politics and has the potential to split the nation. The British , for their own selfish reasons, propagated the theory of Aryan-Dravidian divide. In the early part of the last century, some organisations in the then-Madras Presidency started using this theory as a tool to beat the upper castes of the state with; it was widely perceived that the Brahmins of the South were originally from the North and by implication, they were not part of Dravidians. So, some of the educated non-Brahmin communities effectively deployed this perception to bring down the Brahmins from the latter's dominant position in the society and professions. When the country achieved independence, some new political parties were formed in South India and these parties in their efforts to defeat the Congress party used the weapon of ' Dravidians being different' to spread hatred against the North and by implication the all-India Congress party. This poisonous Aryan-Dravidian theory ( which has been rubbished of late by many historians as baseless) brought the Dravidian parties to power and gave the people a fictitious feeling of having men of their own feather in power. But the damage the Dravidian identity politics has caused to the sense of unity is considerable.
Religious Identity Politics: In the name of secularism, most of the political parties have been deceiving the minorities ; they talk of protecting them without doing any thing substantial to improve their living standards. But this very talk is seen by the Hindus as appeasement of minorities. This reaction by the majority community has enabled the more extreme sections of the Hindu population to practise politics based on religion. The issue of secularism has dominated politics for close to two decades, creating a set-back to efforts to tackle real issues like economy and governance.
Caste Identity Politics: South India started it ; the politicians connived among themselves to award the Backward community status to most of the castes. The so-called upper castes were systematically edged out of the Public sector and Government job market. In that process, they were driven out of the state; huge sections rendered helpless by the unjust reservation policy migrated to the North in search of higher education and employment. The politicians of the South especially Tamilnadu are gloating that they have solved the caste problem; what they have done is execution of a South Indian brand of ethnic cleansing. Bloodless, if it offers any consolation. The Northern states have just begun messing up with the caste issue. Mandal was the start. In the north, it is competitive backward politics. Mulayam - Laloo brand which recognizes only Yadavs as the backward community deserving help, Nitish brand which talks about the Most Backward Communities ( euphemism for all backward communities except Yadavs) etc. This fire which has been started by the politicians will not stop in a hurry. What gets burnt out and what escapes unscathed are things that are in a sealed container called Future.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bhopal Gas Tragedy - A Witness

I was a resident of Bhopal when the tragedy in the form of leakage of a deadly gas from a factory struck the beautiful city of Bhopal. The tragedy happened , I remember, around the time between midnight of the 2Nd December and the early morning of the 3rd December 1984. I was fast asleep and so perhaps was every one of my neighbours in the posh residential area Arera Colony . Arera Colony is situated some 10kms away from Union Carbide factory where the leakage of gas occurred. When I got up at 6.30 am on the 3rd of December, there was commotion in the street outside. People were looking scared, talking among themselves in small groups in fearful tones. The servant maid just then entered our home and gave us the piece of information. "Gas has leaked and several are dead". Gas? Which gas? LPG? She said, not domestic gas, but some factory gas. Those were not days of round the clock Television. We had to switch on the radio ( which was yet to become a museum object) to learn more about the gas leak. Soon it became clear that some poisonous gas had leaked out and killed thousands of people in the older section of the city.My neighbour suggested that we must drive away to the nearby town of Hoshangabad since there were rumours that the wind was pushing the gas towards our part of the city ( This was later found to be false). The main road was already chocking with cars and scooters and people were trying to get as far away from the affected part of the city as possible.We decided to stay put and wait for the Govt.'s advice. Soon it became clear that the lake, a prominent landmark of Bhopal, had acted as a shield and checkmated the spreading gas, confining it to a smaller area in the older part of the city. Unfortunately, the older part was also the more crowded part. That was why the casualty figures ran into thousands.
Bhopal was stunned into inaction for several days thereafter. There was hardly any one other than the rescue workers venturing into the affected localities. On the third or the fourth day, myself and a colleague of mine drove to the old city . There was eerie silence everywhere. Some dead bodies were still on the street corners. It was not the lovely Bhopal I had come to know in the previous two years since my shift from Bombay . Soon, the profiteers and bad elements took over the scene. Blankets and clothes donated freely to the suffering people started appearing dramatically in the evening market for sale. Social service organisations, some of them genuine but many of them out to make a fast buck out of the tragedy descended on the scene. There was even a cartoon in the Times of India ( by Lakshman) which showed a big-built suited-booted lawyer from the United States bending his huge body to meet the eyes of a roadside beggar and asking him " Hey, would u like to sue the Union Carbide? This is my business card. 50 percent would be my share".
25 years have passed. Who knows how many of those affected still live? Who knows how many of those claiming today to have been affected that day 25 years ago are really those whom the poisonous gas had harmed? The sudden swing into action by the Govt. of India and working out a relief package are laughable. 25 years for the court to deliver a judgement? Can any thing be more cynical than this? Would the world have condoned Union Carbide and Anderson if the disaster had happened in some Western country? Would the compensation amount given by Union Carbide have been so low? Human lives are cheaper here, right?
What has the country learnt from this industrial disaster? Is a disaster-management plan ready? Will it be far less damaging if a second Bhopal were to occur somewhere?

Low Interest Regime - Pensioners' Dilemma, Industries' Bonanza

If the interests of any two groups are diametrically opposite, then they are Pensioners ( Retired people) and Industries.
The industries and the Business want lower lending interests from the banks. When they borrow at higher interests, their cost of production goes up. The demand as an inverse function of the price of products goes down. The Businesses make lower turnover and lower profits. So, whatever be the rate of inflation, the business lobbies with the Govt. and the Reserve Bank of India to retain the lower interest regime. In these days when every one watches the GDP rate , the Govt. certainly does not want the rate of growth to slip and get the blame for slowing down the economy. If inflation climbs up , the Govt. thinks that the growth in economy will put more money in the hands of the people and silence cries of protest on inflation. Well, to some extent, the Govt. is right. With pay-packets constantly on the rise, the public in the age group 25-60 is not as worried about inflation as used to be the case a decade or two ago.
But there is one group which is eyeing the double-digit inflation with tremors and low interest regime with annoyance. It is the pensioners. Those people whose survival depends on the pension they receive or the returns they get on their investments. This group gets hit on both the fronts. High inflation reduces the value and purchasing power of the money they have. Besides, the low interests offered by the banks on the deposits ( which depend on the RBI monetary policies) put less money in the hands of these people who do not earn a salary income any more. Many pensioners think and rightly so, that they can fight inflation through judicious expenditure of money and wise choice of goods to be bought. But they are helpless when the interest income on bank deposits keeps decreasing as keeping the cost of money low enough to benefit the industries becomes the guiding mantra of the Govt. This dilemma of the pensioners has no chance of a happy resolution since numerically the pensioners are a small minority in a country where the majority of the population is under 40.